The other day I was walking back towards my house when a cacophony of bird noises grabbed my attention. My hearing told me that there were magpies and birds of prey somewhere nearby. I searched the trees above me and sure enough at the top of some tall trees a group of magpies and a few buzzards were in the middle of an altercation. As I watched the buzzards would, one by one, fly in to one of the trees only to be sent packing by a angry response from a few of the magpies. Once one buzzard had been repelled another one would fly in from a different angle which was again repelled by even more magpies. If it hadn’t been for the noise I’m not sure that i would have noticed this fascinating behaviour.
There are so many different birds to hear as I partake of my morning ramblings.
Last summer I watched a flock of noisy long-tailed tits leap from bush to bush along a local hedgerow. Their call is distinctive, particularly as they move around in these small flocks chattering away to each other as they go.
I love to listen to nature as I walk around but that’s not the only type of listening that I like to do. Recently I received a present of some bone-conducting headphones from Sue, my wife. These headphones don’t go in my ears, but rest on my cheek bones, because my ears are still open to the air I can still hear all of the ambient sounds around me while I listen to a podcast or an audio-book. The headphones are also quite good for music, but although I love music I tend to prefer the spoken word while I’m out walking.
There’s something about walking and listening to an audio-book that enhances the experience of both, for me. Listening regularly, even for relatively short periods of time, means that you can get through quite a lot of material. Some of my listening is fiction and as I walk I enter into the scenes that the author has painted. There are times when I feel like I am equally in two places at the same time, the real one and the fictional one. At other times my listening is more factual learning and listening as I walk helps the learning to become embedded in my mind. Walking is, after all, supposed to have a positive effect on creative thinking.
Often, as I walk, the loudest noise isn’t an external one, it’s the one in my mind. There have been times when, before a walk, that voice has become almost deafening and blocked out every other sound. As I set out on a walk that voice drives me to walk at a pace, but without any rhythm, and little delight. The voice may be setting the pace at the beginning, but something about the activity of walking steadily arrest and calms that voice and returns my steps to a normal tempo. Calm steps and calm thoughts. Sometimes I don’t have to walk very far before I experience this effect, but there are other days when I can walk miles before the calm descends. If I am out hill walking the motion and effort of an ascent is a great facilitator for calming the voice. It can feel like I’m fighting the hill at the beginning, but anyone who has been hill walking knows that it’s always the hill that wins. Once my inner voice has been calmed it’s then, and only then, that I can really hear it.
My life would be far poorer if I was to loose the ability to walk and listen, but more than that, I suspect that my mental well-being would be significantly impaired.
There are days when my primary reason for walking is to listen, that’s particularly true when I need to listen to myself.
header image: This is the side of Yewbarrow looking towards Pillar from a recent walk when I listened to the entirety of Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell.